Abstracts and bios 14

revisiting the concepts of critical urban studies

Amanda Winter

Thinking through the peri-urban and the implications for governing climate adaptation

Urban studies scholarship has a tendency for methodological cityism that defines cities in conventional and restricted ways while overlooking contemporary geographies and dynamics of urbanization. The notion of the peri-urban provides a stark contrast to the traditional city perspective and has emerged as an increasingly important lens to interpret urbanization processes in the twenty-first century. The notion of the peri-urban is further an emergent and contested topic that addresses those spaces, conceptually and physically, that reside ‘outside’ of the city but are central to contemporary urbanization dynamics. The peri-urban has been simultaneously described as a place and a process, a spectrum from rural to urban, an extension of the urban, a combination of the rural and urban, and a unique place separate from the rural and the urban. Likewise, it has been described as incomplete, arbitrary, and ambiguous. Defining borders and boundaries are then a central issue to approaching the peri-urban. In this paper, we offer a theoretical synthesis of the various strands of peri-urban approaches, including its recent intertwining with informalization. We engage with the conceptual confusion and plurality of the peri-urban through a case study of flood governance in Greater Manchester (UK), a city-region that has experienced extensive flooding events in recent years. The interplay of downstream flooding impacts and upstream hydrologic interventions requires new approaches to connect cities with their hinterlands. Specifically, we are interested in how an improved conceptualization of the peri-urban can be useful in interpreting emergent modes of governing climate adaptation. We map the peri-urban spaces and borders according to the empirics of flood management in Manchester, which offers insight to urbanization and climate governance in the post-industrial peripheries of the Global North. The case study demonstrates the utility of the peri-urban to engage with notions of scale and collaboration in new ways while opening up opportunities for comparison with other city-regions that are also struggling with the development of new approaches to govern climate change.

Constantina Theodorou

Climate justice in the context of planetary urbanization and the revision of spatial hierarchies

Since early ‘80s an orchestrated cultural-political enterprise is underway, to communicate the scientific findings of anthropogenic climate change and its devastating implications, to make it a common knowledge, inscribe it in everyday habits, financialize through corporate practices, institutionalize through international or national legislation. Climate change is a grand narrative and a harsh reality at once; to be scientifically verified it took a huge shift in our understanding of our relationship to cosmological history, to be combated it will require a radical shift of our political imagination.
While its effects will be shared across the planet in unpredictable, variegated and unequal ways, its politics are still organized through nation-state hierarchies and their bigger or smaller scales. Climate governance comes in pair with either global or urban governance, where both terms get unquestioned- global referring nebulously to anything from corporations to civil society, informed by incoherent statistical representations of the world (Aksu, 2016), and the urban conceived in a persisting “methodological cityism” (Angelo & Washmuth, 2015), in the form of compact cities or suburban sprawl. The landscapes of extended urbanization, that are suffering the metabolic burden of concentrated urbanization, are left outside, only seen as extraction sites for green trade-offs and new rounds of dispossessions across the geographies of vast, land-consuming renewable energy projects.
In order to address issues of climate justice, essential to the achievement of the broad synergies that climate change adaptation requires, I find the concept of planetary urbanization (Brenner & Schmid, 2015), quite poignant. Since its introduction it has been intensely discussed, with the main critiques emphasizing a tendency to totalize, leaving no space for the constitutive other of urbanization, the rural, or for other causal explanations of urban processes. Accepting that there cannot be a singular explanation for complex social phenomena, the planetary urbanization framework, in my reading, allows to rethink rurality under the urban lens and to shape claims not just of climate justice but of urban justice as well. These “hinterlands of urbanization”, places of transformed rurality, should be able to get their positive share of urbanity- interconnectedness, cultural encounters with difference, political representation-, instead of just being treated as the “terra nullius” of the post-fossils future expedition. I also invoke Spivak’s (2003) notion of planetarity that calls to accept unknownability, to respect and accept a field of alterity, contrary to globalization’s abstract deterministic world models.
The crucial question comes then at what scale the politics of this planetarity will be played out. Since scales, are constructed upon abstract divisions of the globe, the acceptance of unknownability and alterity leads also to the discard of the scalar fixes problematic and to a beyond state-scales hierarchical ordering of the world. The conceptualization of a future planetary organization could be open to other organizing logics, such as Bratton’s (2015) non-hierarchical seven layers planetary stack, including earth, cloud or user levels, to a mix of varied forms of territorialities, such as indigenous commons’ lands, global online communities of activism, transnational energy super-grids or deterritorialized finance regimes. The shape of these rhizomatic planetary networks is still to be seen, defined in practice rather than de jure. A revision of our working categories is thus not just a theoretical exercise, but a basis for new political imaginaries and praxis.

Aksu E (2016) What, Then, is ‘Global’ about Global Governance? The Chinese Journal of Global Governance 1(2): 105–32.
Angelo H. and Washmuth D. (2015) Urbanizing Urban Political Ecology: A Critique of Methodological Cityism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39(1): 16–27.
Bratton B (2016) The Stack. The MIT Press.
Brenner N and Schmid C (2015) Towards a new epistemology of the urban? City 19 (2-3): 151–182.
Spivak G C (2003) Planetarity. In Death of a Discipline. Columbia University Press, New York Chichester, West Sussex.

Debolina Majumder

“Ephemeral urbanism” revisited: Internal labour migration and a class-analysis of urban landscape formation in Indian megacities

Although academics and practitioners have grappled with the concept of ephemerality in landscape research (see Atha 2019 for a discussion of this literature), the use of the term “ephemeral urbanism” to describe the intangible and temporary quality of many cityscapes can be attributed to the architects, Rahul Mehrotra and Felipe Vera (2015; 2017). Despite hinting at patterns of demographic change that cause biannual fluctuations in urbanisation percentages in India, Mehrotra and Vera do not develop the structural interlinkages between internal labour migration and urban landscape formation in Indian megacities. Beginning with a review of the literature on migration and urban place-making more generally, in this paper I outline how attention to labour migration, and specifically a class-analysis of internal labour migration to Indian megacities, can ground the concept of ephemeral urbanism within wider socio-economic geographies and histories of uneven development in India. Rather than being limited to form and design practice, I argue that ephemeral urbanism can then be deployed as a theoretical paradigm to explain the other half of the contradiction that is the contemporary globalizing Indian megacity: the impermanence of working-class life as a consequence of uneven development.
Drawing from life history interviews with migrant construction workers conducted between December 2018 and June 2019 in the National Capital Territory of Delhi as a part of my PhD fieldwork, I posit that this reworking of the concept of ephemeral urbanism in tandem with existing internal labour migration trends encourages us to think beyond the urban as a site of permanent labour settlement or as the conceptual end-point of a process of classic primitive accumulation. Theorising the urban from below/the outside reveals that temporary “off the map” (Robinson 2002) micro-urban spaces such as demolished informal settlements, daily labour markets, shifting unregistered workplaces, and labour camps combine to create a landscape that sustains the dispossession, regulation, and (re)production of informal and precarious labour in southern megacities such as Delhi. In so doing, I highlight the importance of reconsidering the dialectic between permanence and temporariness within the urban landscape and centering discussions of labour and temporality in the generation of urban theory from the south.

Li Fan & Nadine Appelhans

“Conceded informality”: Theorizing urban informality in China from urban villages to post-industrial spaces

To explain urban development in China, Western theories are often consulted and tested for their applicability. David Harvey (2005), for instance, suggested a “neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics”. Given the mainstreaming of such deductive approaches of analysis, theory developed in a conductive approach hardly find its position in explaining urban phenomena in China. One of the few outcomes of a conductive approach is the concept of “conceded informality” (Schoon and Altrock, 2014), which describes the state relation with urban informality in the case of urban villages in South China. The theory is based on Roy’s notion of informality as a mode of urbanization, rather than a sector (Roy 2005). In line with Roy’s thinking, it frames the Chinese state as the regulatory power, which determines the formal/informal status, while engaging in informal practices itself. However, ‘conceded informality’ differentiates, why and when the Chinese state selects particular regulatory strategies beyond a dichotomy of tolerance and clearance of informally developed structures.

Based on the notion of “conceded informality”, this paper explores various strategies of the Chinese state towards informal reuse of post-industrial sites. With the closure and relocation of factories, the formal industrial sites in the city center of Shanghai have provided potential for informal reuse of industrial buildings before they are demolished for new projects. Meanwhile, the formal plan of redevelopment, aiming at complete demolition and reconstruction, hardly includes the informal re-use in official planning process. One of the well-known informal uses of post-industrial sites are so called ‘creative parks’. From the acceptance of creative clusters to tolerating and promoting them, various units of government play active roles, thereby resulting in spaces of “controlled creativity” (Zielke and Waibel, 2014). To understand the role of the state in dealing with changes and challenges in the comprehensive transformation is key to understand the informality of the creative space. Thus, two research questions are to be answered. First, how the state determines the formal/informal status. Second, how the state engages in informal practices of space production in different manners.
The methodology of the research includes project investigation and interviews. Four districts of Shanghai’s inner city were chosen for investigating formal and informal urban transformation 2000-2020 on former manufacturing sites. Around 400 urban regeneration projects could be distinguished and around one-third is identified as informal conversion. Interviews on their development were conducted with planning authorities at municipal and district levels in Shanghai in 2019 and 2020.

The analysis of the case shows that the variegated strategies of the Chinese state to deal with informal development reaches beyond urban villages and apply also to the development of post-industrial sites. The relation of the state towards the informal re-use of post-industrial sites is thereby subject to prioritizing different interests and includes strategies negotiating with informality thereby varying from actively supporting, to promoting, utilizing, tolerating and overcoming it, to abandoning it. The paper demonstrates that urban development strategies of the Chinese state include dynamic processes of informality, which differ from those described in research from other world regions.

Harvey D (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Roy, A. (2009). Why India cannot plan its cities: Informality, Insurgence and the Idiom of Urbanisation. Planning Theory, 8(1), 76-87. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26165886
Schoon, S. and U. Altrock (2014) Conceded informality. Scopes of informal urban restructuring in the Pearl River Delta. Habitat International 43, 214-220.
Zielke, P. and M. Waibel (2014) Comparative urban governance of developing creative spaces in China. Habitat International 41, 99-107.